Like the Bible, Greek mythology has its own story of Creation, full of similarities and contrasts to its Christian counterpart. According to the ancient Greeks, Pandora was the first woman to ever exist, and her story is a sad one. Although it has been around for centuries, the story has failed to survive an ongoing game of "telephone", in which events and people have been distorted to the point that it is hard to tell what the original story actually was. For this reason, please forgive me if my version of the story is inconsistent with what you may have read before.
Before the realm of heaven was created and the earth and sea were formed, the everything and nothing of the Universe was in a state of Chaos. God reached into this Chaos and helped form the realms of the planet: earth, sky, sea and air. The Titans existed on earth long before Man did, and Zeus gave them the job of creating all of the planet's living things. Epimetheus made Man out of mud, helping him to stand upright so that he would be the only animal on earth to gaze upward towards heaven. Epimetheus bestowed gifts upon all of earth's creatures, giving wings to some and qualities such as cunning or strength to others. By the time he came to Man he was out of gifts and went to his brother Prometheus for help. Athena carried Prometheus to the chariot of the Sun, where he lit his torch and brought fire down to earth as a gift for mankind.
Zeus was so outraged by Prometheus's theft of fire, something that was only supposed to exist in heaven, that he created an elaborate punishment for Prometheus and his brother. In Hesiod's version of the Pandora myth, Zeus says to Prometheus: ". . . you are happy that you stole the fire, and outwitted my thinking; but it will be a great sorrow to you, and to men who come after. As the price of fire I will give them an evil, and all men shall fondle this, their evil, close to their hearts, and take delight in it." The first woman was created in heaven and given gifts from all of the Olympian gods: beauty from Aphrodite, persuasion from Hermes, music from Apollo, etc. She was named Pandora, which means "she to whom all gifts were given." Pandora was given to Epimetheus, who had been warned by his intellectually superior brother never to accept gifts from the gods. Epimetheus, being simple-minded, took Pandora as his wife anyway.
In one version of the myth, Pandora is given a locked box and its key by Hermes, who tells her that she can do whatever she likes with the box besides opening it. In another version, the evils of mankind had been long ago sealed away in a jar which was given to Prometheus and Epimetheus for protection. The former myth tells of Pandora being a devious bitch, who knew the box was filled with horrible things, and deliberately unleashed them into the world, saving Hope at the bottom of the box as a cruel torture. This myth portrays Pandora, and all women, as a plague upon mankind; she is seen as beautiful on the outside, but rotted out and ugly on the inside.
The latter myth sees Pandora in a somewhat more favorable light. Zeus had given Pandora the gift of curiosity; when she saw the sealed jar inside the house of her keepers, she could not stop herself from opening it just to see what was inside. Before she could seal the jar again, all the evils of the world were unleashed into the air, unable to be captured again. Pandora sealed the jar just before Hope could escape, saving mankind from total despair in times of struggle and hardship.
The story of Prometheus and Pandora is the ancient Greek version of Adam and Eve, with a pretty big twist. Eve was supposed to ease Adam's suffering on earth, while Pandora was meant as a punishment for the sins of Prometheus. However, in both stories women are portrayed as objects that can be used to serve men, and to fulfill their desires. In fact, Pandora is seen as a box herself; one of the messages shown throughout Greek mythology and throughout history itself is that women are mere containers for the desires of men. They are containers for sex, for sperm, and for babies. One website quotes, "she was to a large extent herself seen as a container - for the sperm, for the child, who spent most of her life in a container (house) designed for the purpose of allowing no unauthorised person to open the box." Once Pandora has spent her entire life as a container living within a container, she will die and be placed into another container until her body rots and she is no more.
Despite the fact that women bring life into the world, throughout mythology they have been seen as bringing death and destruction. Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and Pandora opened the jar; both actions causing suffering and death in the world were committed by women. Hence, although men are seen as the warlords and the violent sex of humanity, women are blamed for forcing the stronger of the two sexes into endless battles for peace, driven by Hope. Men are taught to be wary of the beauty of the female form, for it is deceptive, and to fall in love with a woman is the same as accepting death.
In "Myth and Body: Pandora's Legacy in a Post-Modern World", Polly Young Eisendrath Ph.D., states that the Pandora myth still exists to this day as a double-bind for modern females. Women want to possess beauty which will cause men to fight for them. The men fight for these beautiful women because their beauty has a power over them, and the men want to bring this power under their own control. The women who possess such beauty are seen as beautiful but empty, but are undesirable without it. To spend too much time worrying over physical appearance leads to the neglect of other more important qualities; to neglect the physical appearance turns the woman into an outsider with little or no hope of finding a male partner.
The image of Pandora has become an archetype for women, forcing them to alter themselves in ways which they believe will make them more desirable to the opposite sex. Eating disorders run rampant throughout the world, with young women becoming thinner and thinner as they strive to look more like Calista Flockhart and the newly emaciated Geri Halliwell than healthy people such as Kathleen Turner or the size 14 Marilyn Monroe. Breast implants, facial reconstructive surgery and liposuction are some of the weapons women use to battle physical imperfections, with commercials telling women that their blemishes are "unsightly" and need to be covered up with makeup that "lasts beautifully." Growing older is seen as a disease, with hundreds of creams advertised to get rid of wrinkles that wouldn't show up on a beautiful young woman.
Modern women have a difficult task in today's world, since they are not only working against a common male image of females, but they are also working against each other. The story of Pandora has influenced men to think of women as cruel and heartless beneath their sweet exteriors; Pandora has made women resent each other for the same reasons, recognizing their own faults inside other women, and feeling forced to compete for the prize of the "best woman." Girls think, "If this boy likes me, it must mean I'm pretty enough." Personally I'd like to think that guys like me for the fact that I'm not afraid to fart in front of them, not because I've dyed my hair platinum blonde and my breasts have suddenly grown from A to D overnight. Women are cruel to one another, constantly assessing and comparing their own faces and bodies to those of other women. Jealous ex girlfriends make up stories about the new girl; sisters sleep with each other's boyfriends; best friends say things like "you look thinner in the longer skirt." All of this is just stuff that makes girls feel better about themselves, but it is also stuff that perpetuates the Pandora archetype. Women are told that they are wily and devious. This makes women want to prove that they are different from most women who obviously are wily and devious, since so many men say so. In order to prove this, women become devious by saying things about other women to prove that only those females are the devious ones.
All of this stems from Pandora, who in the more popular version of the myth did not realize she would end up doing something so horrible, and was later chastised for it by everyone she'd ever known. She was blamed for all the cruelty and suffering in the world, and seen as a worthless, empty-headed creature who was only good for sexual satisfaction. Being the first woman was a lot of pressure for her, and she must have thought she failed miserably. The modern Pandora needs to learn to embrace her many diverse gifts. Unless women find the balance between such qualities as integrity and jealousy, they will forever be caught in a cycle where the most important thing in their lives is sexual attention, instead of trying to advance themselves and make a difference as strong, independent females.